Three friends meet to celebrate New Year’s Eve and plot the changes they want for the coming year. Alison wants to exercise more. Kate wants to find more zen during her third pregnancy. Frankie just wants to hold down a job longer than two weeks. As they try to live outside their comfort zones, each must wade through parenting problems, ex-friends, and relationship issues— all to complete their happiness project.
Each of these women are vastly different characters. Alison is organized, rigid in her ways, and the type of mom always ready with a healthy homemade snack. Kate maintains a quieter style, shy, and somewhat trapped under the stress in her life. Frankie might come across a bit gruff and somewhat flighty, but she’s still lovable. Author Pippa James marvelously plays with these differences. There’s something so realistic about their relationship— they’re the odd group of friends that almost seem thrust together, but still devoted to one another.
As well, James forces these three into situations that lets readers see both the best and worst of each at different times. So while readers might cheer Frankie at one point for landing her first job, they might be disappointed in how Kate handles confrontation in the next scene. With such a distinctive ensemble, readers will probably develop a favorite main character, or at least someone whose actions they can most justify. However, James allows each of the three their moment to shine while also showcasing where they need to grow. Her pacing is incredibly effective.
James also has so much to say about motherhood, and it’s refreshing to watch three women speak so candidly about their insecurities in that role. These moments feel the most real. One minute, Kate is handing over her phone for her daughter to play on. The next, she’s questioning everything about her parenting decisions. The amount of external pressure on each of these women to be the ‘perfect mother’ is both unfortunate and all too common.
And, of course, in a novel about New Year’s Resolutions (though packaged much nicer as a ‘happiness project’), there is plenty of focus on personal growth. This is another time when James’s careful consideration of these friendships helps push this novel into the next level. Alison, Kate, and Frankie are each supportive of the other, but it isn’t an all out love-fest. Frankie might offer Kate advice on dealing with a difficult friend, and Alison might redo Kate’s CV to land her a job, but they also fight, question, and make up. For each, moments of genuine reflection and growth happen not simply because of their friendship but, often, in spite of it. It feels both natural to life and unique to the genre.
All of this is not to suggest this book is entirely serious. It does have its light moment. A parade of animal costumes, impossible flip flops, and an obstacle course like no other each make hilarious appearances. There’s always something to cut the tension.
Pippa James has written a stellar novel of friendship, motherhood, and happiness.
Title:The Happiness Project
Author: Pippa James
Publication Date: February 12, 2019
Classification: Women’s Fiction
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.